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February 26, 2018



Lonely in Paris

The lessons from the Paris meeting of the Financial Action Task Force last week are very obvious and quite clear. The first is that we cannot tell the world all that we tell our own people through officially sanctioned news releases about the state of affairs on the counter-terror front.

There are none, or very few, takers of our case as we plead it at international forums. The establishment’s reluctance to an open and genuine debate and the silencing of critical evaluations of how far we have gone in meeting world concerns have deprived our policy of rational direction and honest appeal. Politicians are made to praise all that is happening against organised terror. Anyone raising an eyebrow is browbeaten by the media’s paid pipers and then made to pay a heavy cost of speaking the truth in other ways.

This regime of fear and silence may have worked to sustain an image of greatness domestically, and may have produced legends of our own liking, but it has cut off national and policy thinking from ground reality. Policymakers are no longer interested in finding out the truth about their own counter-terror actions; the people are no longer willing to believe anything other than the story that the whole world is against us and that is why they want to put us in the category of nations that have not done enough in quashing organised networks and their actions.

The Paris fiasco has put us back in the focus of tighter scrutiny of performance against terror financing, and indicated that nobody reads our press releases or fancy tweets. Nor does anyone watch or is impressed by the two dozen analysts who are deputed on media screens to constantly hammer the global conspiracy theory of the world being unfair to us. Our talking points on counter-terror suffer from an inherent credibility problem. We dish out the same cock and bull story to the world that we sell in the domestic market through the force of arm-twisting. The world can check facts on its own. They have means to verify our claims. They come to conclusions not on the basis of fanciful theories laced with bombastic speeches but by piecing together evidence from varied sources. So when they make a case they are not like the JIT of Panama fame or NAB in case of Ahed Cheema.

They have evidence – hard core, incontrovertible evidence to drill holes in our statements. And then we give them evidence on a platter: just list what has happened in Pakistan involving the JuD, the Tehreek-eLabaik, Khadim, Akora Khattak – and then see it from an outsider’s perspective. This has been happening for a long time now, for almost two decades and yet we have not changed our ways of arguing our case through shouts and screams knowing full well that it lacks the force of fact. Paris was not different. Little wonder the result hasn’t been different.

Another lesson is that we have put our allies (in the sense of international politics where countries’ interests are aligned to create harmony of stance) in very awkward situations. Now they are not willing to back us on every forum just because they happen to be our allies. Saudi Arabia did not change its final stance despite our troop diplomacy. China did not stick its neck out in the final count because it knew which way the world of reality spins. Turkey had the best of both worlds: Ankara knew standing for Pakistan won’t materially change the situation in our favour and therefore there would be no costs to its relations with Washington and at the same time it would please Islamabad by a gesture of support. It would have been a different story had Turkey’s vote been the decider in the count on Pakistan’s probation for three months before being put on the Grey List. Ankara would have gone with the rest of our friends.

The third lesson from Paris is that every time we attempt to skate around our global commitments we end up with a broken leg and a tougher climb in the next phase. In Paris as the first round unfolded and gave us the hope of defeating US-Britain sponsored and Germany and France backed motion to put us on the ‘grey list’ of terror financing, we assumed that the world had been convinced. We did not realise what lay ahead – a strong US and allies manoeuvre to quash the initial success. Then in order to ward off a second round of voting we negotiated a tougher deal of scrutiny. In the end we could not prevent the second round of voting and are now stuck with a much tighter and more pointed list of questions whose answers we have to deliver in the next three months to avoid the prospect of slipping from the grey list to the black one – which means massive economic encirclement, poor global ratings, tough hits on global financial transactions, banking and borrowing besides of course a terrible dent to our image as a serious and responsible member of the international community, to list just a few costs.

In other words, we went to Paris after taking delayed and superficial action against groups and individuals at home and by claiming to the domestic audience (who else) that we had done enough but are now back from Paris with a heavier set of questions to answer. Why do we do this to ourselves – to our own land, to our own country, to our own people? Why?

There is no answer to the question except that our domestic focus is totally different from where it ought to be. Our priorities are to make or break governments, to play musical chairs, to rig and manipulate, to throw tough decisions under the carpet and pretend that we have cleaned up the mess thoroughly and then listen to and enjoy our own half-truths with pretended satisfaction. This speaks of a great crisis of competence, qualification and calibre. The manner in which we have conducted ourselves at international forums on every critical moment leaves one with little doubt about deep personal andinstitutional deficiencies in the policymaking apparatus.

On top it, every time a policy disaster happens the reaction is simply to find easy punching bags and then lay into them. First it was the absence of a foreign minister. Now it is the presence of the foreign minister. First it was the presence of Nawaz Sharif. Now it is the presence of Khaqan Abbasi. At a different level, punches fly towards the media, columnists, bloggers, social activists. They are dubbed as traitors, ‘Pakistan dushman’ and all the dark labels that anyone can conceive. ‘If only they had written in our favour…..’ By doing that we think we have identified the real challenge behind our failures and that these ‘enemies’ at home need to be defeated for us to win foreign and defence policy successes. This is a delusion – the equivalent of Imran Khan trying to become prime minister on the back of good-luck charms and voodoo magic, neglecting his party’s performance.

The real reason the world is increasingly turning a deaf ear to our pleas is the absence of relevant facts from what we say. It is what we do at home that haunts us abroad. John F Kennedy was on the dot when he spoke of US priorities in a turbulent age: domestic policy, he said, can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us. In case of Pakistan, our domestic policy has started to kill our foreign policy and together both are defeating and humiliating us repeatedly. It is sad to see that even after Paris we still don’t get this reality. Amazing! Totally depressing!

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.


Twitter: @TalatHussain12